Researchers at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) in Toronto have announced the discovery of fossils belonging to an odd 3-eyed predator whose brain has been preserved for 506 million years inside a fossil.
Palaeontologists found the fossils in the Burgess Shale, a formation in British Columbia’s Canadian Rockies, located within Yoho and Kootenay National Parks.
The study results were published on Saturday, July 9, 2022 in Current Biology by Joseph Moysiuk, lead author of the research, in what has become a truly trailblazing discovery in fossil findings.
Odd 3-eyed predator discovered by researchers
What researchers found was a marine predator called Stanleycaris hirpex, a 20cm-long creature. The creatures had saw-like teeth, claws, a segmented body with swimming flaps along its sides, and bulging eyes. The creature, which would have been a nightmare predator for smaller creatures on the bottom of the sea, belonged to an extinct group of arthropods.
The fossils showed Stanleycaris had three eyes with two sticking out on stalks and a giant one in the middle of its head. Sounds like something off of Monsters Inc right? The extra eye was a shocking discovery but thinking about it, most modern arthropods sport multiple eyes such as spiders, which have eight eyes, or other creatures that have four or six eyes.
This offers an evolutionary timeline of how the arthropod body has developed into what they are now. The main pair of eyes the Stanleycaris had will have helped them form images of their whereabouts. Whereas the smaller eyes would have been to help orientate themselves.
“It emphasizes that these animals were even more bizarre-looking than we thought, but also shows us that the earliest arthropods had already evolved a variety of complex visual systems like many of their modern kin,” said Dr Jean-Bernard Caron, who was Joseph Moysiuk’s PhD supervisor.
Stanleycaris’ brain preserved after 500 million years
Canadian researchers discovered the fossils were so well preserved, the predator’s brain and nerves were even visible.
The lead author of the study described the fossils as a “remarkable discovery”, adding: “What makes this find so remarkable is we have dozens of specimens showing the remains of the brain and other elements of the nervous system, and they’re incredibly well preserved and show really fine details.”
“The details are really crisp and beautiful,” concluded Moysiuk, who is doing his PhD in ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Toronto, Canada.
In fact, 84 of the fossils showed what Stanleycaris’ brain and nerves looked like. Under the microscope, it could be seen the brain was made up of two segments.
The modern-day brain of an arthropod has three segments, showing how the creatures have evolved over 506 million years. The ancient creature’s brain structure was also connected to its different body parts, which this study has proved were actually segmented.